That night of their first “date” so long ago, hanging at her crib, he’d listened close as she went on and on about novelists Zora Neale Hurston and Ann Petry (whoever Petry had been). And plays like Dutchman and No Place to Be Somebody. He was blown away by her hipping him to legitimate authors.
In the back of tour buses he’d read comics many times, eventually falling asleep and snoring sound as a bear. A lot of the guys did. The gals would take videos, complete with sound, laughing themselves sick at how ugly the guys looked as they slept. No one ever figured out when the women slept.
Lesli laughed, “When you men weren’t awake, dummy.” It took him totally by surprise that, in addition to real books, she had read a comic book or two in her life. Reprints of something called Classics Illustrated. “Egghead stuff”, she admitted. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Gulliver’s Travels, things like that.”
She brightened with smile spreading virtually wrist to wrist. “But, I have heard of Batman and The Fantastic Four.”
He’d’ve been glad to discuss Bazooka Joe bubble-gum wrappers as long she did most of the talking. A real switch, since usually over the past great while, the most interesting thing a date had to say was whether she had a roommate or they needed to go to his place.
It isn’t just that she’s intelligent, he recalled thinking, with a great personality, pretty, and a fantastic shape. And something else he could not, if there was a gun at his head, put his finger on. He loved listening to the sound of her voice.
Her gaze, especially when she emphasized some point or another, stared, he’d swear, straight into his soul. It was all he’d been able to do to hope he was being even halfway cool.
“You haven’t heard a word I’ve said,” she’d complained, half-serious.
“It’s not”, he’d answered in complete candor, “because I haven’t been paying attention.”
She’d given him a look that said, Yeah, right.
“Swear to God. Where else I been looking except right at you? Ain’t my fault you more interesting than what you talking about.”
She’d given him another look in which she seemed to be wondering, “What am I gonna do with this mess?” And had to laugh. “You’re good. I’ll give you that.”
I’m a dead duck, he’d thought. Dead as Kelsey’s nuts.
At somewhere around 3 am, Keith had left her apartment, kicking himself every step of the way to the hotel. The wake-up call came at about a half-hour to checkout time. Hell, he’d barely got a wink of sleep for thinking about this chick, even while stuffing stolen soap and towels in his bag the next morning.
The whole gang got together in the lobby, ready to pile into a couple of cabs. And did he ever catch shit from the fellas. They’d all showed up with that Cheshire cat, fresh-laid look on their faces, and there he was all moon-eyed. All the way on the ride to the airport, they were on his case.
Gerry, the bass player, crooned, “Oooh, somebody’s in luuvv!” The drummer, Matt, chuckled, “Let us have a moment of silence for he who is no longer among the randy, ready crew.” And actually took off his nice, black, leather derby and held it over his heart.”
Barbra, one of the singers, stuck up for Keith: “Y’all leave that man alone. Ain’t his fault he found what the rest of y’all wish you had.” That made it all the worse as a chorus of laughter and jumbled remarks went up in a cataract.
Even the driver, Gus, couldn’t help laughing so hard the bus swerved. Hyenas going to hell with themselves. He couldn’t give a flying figure-eight, nestled up next to a pillow against the window and closing his eyes, thinking, The woman wanted you. You wanted her. Why didn’t you seal the deal?
Next time, he swore to himself. Next time. Hell, if she gives you a next time.
Which, it turned out she would. And did. He wasn’t sure, any longer, that it had been a good thing for her, for him.
How, he asked himself, still staring out the window, am I not going to break her heart?
Don’t get hurt again.
Next week: Will Keith finally make up his mind what the hell he’s going to do?
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.
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